House Votes Down Amendment Allowing Non-religious Military Chaplains, but 150 Democrats Voted for It

Earlier this week, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) put forth an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow for non-religious military chaplains:

The Secretary of Defense shall provide for the appointment, as officers in the Chaplain Corps of the Armed Forces, of persons who are certified or ordained by non-theistic organizations and institutions, such as humanist, ethical culturalist, or atheist.

Republicans (and some Democrats) in the House Armed Services Committee voted against the amendment 43-18 so it didn’t leave the committee.

That didn’t mean the end of the legislation, though. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) tried to get the amendment through without the support of the Committee:

Rep. Jared Polis

What my amendment would simply do is allow chaplains who are certified or ordained, secular humanists and ethical culturalists or atheists, to also be able to support the brave men and women who serve in our military,” Polis said.

Polis said his amendment is needed because the only other counseling option available to nonreligious service members is to see a mental health expert.

“When someone sees a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor, it has a certain stigma that can be attached to it that doesn’t exist when you’re seeing a chaplain,” he said. “It also doesn’t enjoy the same confidentiality that a chaplain visit does.”

Unfortunately, the full House shot this amendment down earlier this afternoon by a vote of 274-150. Every Republican and 44 Democrats voted against it.

Still, I suppose we can celebrate that 150 Democrats supported the amendment to allow non-religious chaplains. They refused to get bogged down by the “chaplain” terminology and kept the best interests of foxhole atheists in their minds.

The Secular Coalition for America found reason to be optimistic despite the failed amendment, too:

While we are extremely disappointed the amendments failed, we were heartened to see the show of support today’s amendment received from a full third of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The SCA has a way for you to thank those members of Congress who voted the right way, so please send them a note of support.

***Update***: Here is video of Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) speaking out against the amendment because only religious people are allowed to become chaplains:

Huelskamp can’t see past a dictionary. This is why the word “chaplain” should just be changed to something more encompassing. There’s nothing a chaplain does that a Humanist can’t do in an analogous way. Hold weekly services? Check. Perform burial services? Check. Pray to a fictional god? Nope. But the job of the chaplain is not to covert, but to comfort and counsel. Atheists in the military deserve that, just like everybody else.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.